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Bill Richardson Withdraws as Commerce Secretary Nominee

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced Sunday that he is withdrawing his nomination as Secretary of Commerce, leaving open a cabinet post with oversight of a key component of the government's preparation for the digital-TV transition.

Richardson said he had withdrawn due to a pending investigation of a private company's dealings with the state government, specifically how political donors won a state contract. President-elect Barack Obama ran on a platform of distancing government from the influence of lobbyists and private industry money.

Richardson said in a statement that while he maintains that "I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters" and that the investigation will bear that out, he also said "the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process" given the current economic crisis.

The Secretary of Commerce oversees the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which in turn is overseeing the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon subsidy program.

NTIA is currently headed by Meredith Attwell Baker, but she will be stepping down Jan. 20, a mere four weeks before the Feb. 17, 2009, end of full-power analog transmissions unless asked to stay on by the new administration. Her exit could come about the same time as the converter-box program may have to slow or end its coupon distribution if demand increases and Congress does not free up any more money for the program. (Related:NTIA Concerned About DTV Coupons, Converter-Box Supply)

Obama said he accepted the resignation with "deep regret," but said he must move quickly to fill the Commerce post. "It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time," Obama said in a statement Sunday. "I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration," he said.